Claiming All Our Children

Whenever I go away on vacation, I wonder why I live in the city. My children soak up the open spaces, and revel in each new adventure. We have slow days, full of nature. We have time. My country friends ask if the city is as dreadful as the newspapers make it sound. They talk of murders and crime and drugs and financial insolvency. They declare that they would never live in the city--and I don't know what to say. We come back to the heat and noise, shorter tempers and too much to do, and, as always, I wonder.

Of course vacation is always different from daily life, but the contrast is startling. Along with the oppressive heat and the backlog of work, this time we came home to the possibility of becoming foster parents to the grandson of a dear friend, his mother having gotten lost on cocaine. Unexpectedly, this little boy--a symbol of all that is wrong with the city--becomes a means of noticing all that is right. We don't know if our lives can stretch wide enough to include this little boy, but there is something in us that is willing to try. He is one of the children of his city--our city. He is one of us.

It turns out that his mother finds a rehab program that will include children. We're relieved. It's a much better solution. But having a chance to cry for this little boy, and to notice our willingness to be part of his life, I can see what I love most about the city.

I love the city for many reasons. I love it for all its cultural resources. I love the convenience of being able to walk to the drugstore, the pre-school, the corner grocery, friends' houses. I love all our proud history. I love the old architecture. But most of all I love being so unlimited in who I can claim as my people.

I love driving--or walking or biking--the streets of our neighborhood and noticing that I can never predict the color of the next person I'll see. I love having the children experience this as normal. It's just a part of our everyday lives.

Black, white and Vietnamese boys work together, fixing a bike on a neighbor's porch. My children answer the doorbell, and it's an older black boy wanting to borrow the basketball. They know it's safe to lend, know that it will be returned. My husband, our Chinese tenant and a batch of teenagers of all races go out to play ball together. We go sledding in the park, share sleds as always, and the children come home with a new friend, one they would never have met in the country.

I think of my country friends, with all their open spaces, their beautiful horizons, their big gardens, their safety from street crime. I know that the city is a concentration of many things that are very wrong in our society. There are many things that need to change. It's a struggle to figure out how best to be part of the solution. But this time, I don't feel jealous. People in the country certainly have things that I value, but, being here in the city, I have something that I value even more.